11 January, 2009

Youth Voter Turnout 2008

I thought I would compile some early statistics on the youth vote in 2008. The increase is promising, but not the monumental kind of shift I was hoping for. It doesn't seem likely that we'll see a better youth turnout in future elections... I can't imagine that a more appealing candidate will appear, although perhaps youth voter turnout would increase if something pretty major and of direct youth concern, like a draft, were to happen.

From The Center for Information & Research on Civil Learning and Engagement (Tufts U, data from NEP):

2008 Youth (18-29) is estimated at 23 million or 52% of eligible youth voters. This is up 3.4 million or 4 points from 2004. Overall voter turnout in 2008 was 61.5% of eligible voters; with youth voters comprising about 18% of total voters, up from 17% in 2004 (nonprofitvote.org).

68% of youth voters supported Obama, significantly higher than the 45% who identify as Democrats. Initially I suspected this might be because youth are more likely than older voters to identify as Independents while maintaining a strictly Democratic voting record. Interestingly, only approximately 38% of older voters identify as Democrats. Support for Obama among older voters totaled 52% for 30-44 year olds, 49% for 45-59, and 47% for 60+.

Youth support for Obama was surprisingly evenly distributed over levels of education - between 63-68% support for Obama for all levels. In contrast, the general population showed more significant differences in education as correlated with support for Obama:
(CNN Exit Poll)
No HS - 63%; HS Grad - 52%, Some College - 51%; College Grad - 50%, Post-Grad - 58%

Youth votes. Discuss.


spencer said...

The key number to consider is how much the youth vote changed as a share of the total vote. As you say, the share of 18-29 year-olds in the total vote ticked up from 17% to 18% (it would be nice to have some more digits here, but CIRCLE doesn't and neither does CNN...are they rounding up or down?). This seems to indicate that a lot more young people voted, but a lot more of everybody else voted too, so there was no particular explosion in youth votes this year, despite the predictions.

On nonprofitvote.org, they show a graph of the youth vote from 1996-2008. Every cycle the youth vote goes up by 4-7% as a share of total youth. So a larger percentage of the youth vote every cycle. But the trend relative to total vote is flat because total turnout has been increasing over that time period at about the same rate.

Every year, people predict that the youth vote will be a major factor, but it always stays between 17-18% of the total population, even in the uber-boring 1996 presidential race.

Elliot said...

I think most of the importance of the youth vote is not its relative weight but rather its monolithic nature. I know the 18-30 range always votes more liberal than older cohorts, but I wouldn't be surprised if Obama significantly increased the percentage of the youth vote that voted democratic. (To get all partisan on you...)

Also, a part of the story that is not well quantified by the straight data is total youth participation - the number of youth (including youth too young to vote, which was a significant portion of the volunteers in my office) that gave time, energy, and money to the election on one side or the other. That definitely exploded, but I don't know if there has been any attempt to compare man hours volunteered between Obama and Kerry or Gore.

Elliot said...

Although, of course you would have to check the 18-30 swing left compared to the broader shift left in other demographics. But I still think the change in the youth swing would outstrip that of other cohorts.

Eremita said...

538 has Obama carrying 66% of the youth vote, to Kerry's 54%.


Elliot said...

Also, I think it should be read as an encouraging rather than disappointing sign that, as total voting rate increases over time, the youth vote increases as much as other age groups. At least we aren't becoming more apathetic relative to the population.

That said, 52% in the age of Obama is pretty weak sauce. It will be interesting to see if his success has more delayed effects, as youth that are currently, say, 8-17 come of political age in an era when being engaged and active in politics is cool again.

Eremita said...

Same 538 stats that show a +12 pts for youth show
30-44 +6
45-64 +2
65+ -2

spencer said...

Yeah, I'd agree that the main import is the leftward swing in the youth category relative to other categories that Eremita demonstrates. Young people did turn out for Obama. It looks like most of the increase in youth voters went to Obama. But older people's turnout increased too, at almost the same rate. They were just voting for someone else.